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Column: Symptoms or just Sometimes

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Kenneth B. Lourie

Is what I feel – wherever I feel it, cancer or middle age? Is what I feel worthy of a mention to my oncologist or merely yours truly looking for trouble? Moreover, Is the pain/discomfort I feel in my chest (between my lungs) par for the course of treatment I’m on and characteristic of the disease with which I’ve been diagnosed, or is it completely unrelated and not at all noteworthy (dare I say, normal)? Or is this a repeat of a symptom I’ve experienced previously? Once the pain represented a tumor growing in my lungs (bad news); another time, the same pain was scar tissue growing over tumors that had shrunk (great news). (Scar tissue, as my oncologist explained to me, is similar to the scab that eventually forms over a skinned knee and is a sign of healing.) In each case, however, the identical symptom had two very different causes: one good, one bad. Ergo my confusion now. Is what I feel good, bad, or shall I remain indifferent?

And if I remain indifferent, how do I remain indifferent about the most important thing in my life: my health/diagnosis/prognosis? However, stressing about unconfirmed complications seems itself an unnecessary complication and one to be avoided. Where’s the benefit in making myself sick (see 8/29/2012 column: “Diagnosed But Not Sick”) simply because I have a terminal disease? Then again, if I am to remain proactive with respect to my care and feeding, I must advocate for myself and not allow time to pass when pain and suffering need not occur. I don’t want to worry myself sick, but nor do I suppose that neglecting myself dead serves any particular purpose either. As Curly Howard of The Three Stooges said: “I’m too young to die, too handsome; well, too young, anyway.” My feelings exactly.

Not only has the same pain-in-my-chest symptom led to opposite interpretations, it has also caused me to wonder if what I’ve felt was real or imagined (see 8/22/2012 column: “Life in the Cancer Lane”) and typical of the roller-coaster existence that becomes “normal” for cancer patients. The dilemma is, I don’t want to make something out of nothing any more than I want to make nothing out of something. Nor do I ever want to be damned, but with some days/certain symptoms, I feel as if I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Still, I can live with it: I have lived with it, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel like I’ve mastered it.

Even writing a column about it (cancer, and the emotional confusion it causes) seems like I’m bringing unnecessary attention to a condition (some condition) with which I’m forced to live, but a condition any cancer/terminal patient still living would be happy to endure: life. And let me be clear: I am not complaining. I am “introspecting” into the peculiarities and perplexities of living a life for which I had no preparation, no experience and zero indication – until the biopsy confirmed it, that my life, as I had previously known it and expected it to be, was officially over. Not literally, but figuratively. Yet another conundrum.

Making the best of a bad situation, that’s how I roll (I’m a Red Sox fan after all). Some days are easier than others, some symptoms/treatments/results are better than others. And some columns make more sense than others. But that’s cancer for you: an equal opportunity “screwer-upper.”

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers